UCI researchers' work could help paralyzed patients

Two UC Irvine associate professors have laid the foundation for a treatment that could help people who are paralyzed by spinal cord injuries.

Aileen Anderson and Brian Cummings developed a stem cell treatment in collaboration with Northern California-based StemCells Inc. that is being used in clinical trials in Switzerland.

The treatment has resulted in the world's first case of patients regaining some feeling, according to UCI.

"We think this really bodes well for the next stage of the trial," Anderson said.

The initial clinical trial at the Balgrist University Hospital in Zurich injected adult human neural stem cells into the spinal cords of three paralyzed patients.

Two have regained some feeling of touch and heat, according to StemCells Inc., which developed the cell.

The treatment has the potential to not only restore feeling, but also help restore control over bowel movements, said UCI spokesman Tom Vasich.

The trial shows strong evidence that the cell is doing what it was created to do, but the results are not yet concrete, Anderson said. The trial only used three patients, an initial group to determine if the approach is safe, and it didn't have a control group.

"Despite all of these caveats, it's much more than we hoped for," she said. "We're all ecstatic."

The clinical trials are the newest phase of a nearly 10-year research project.

Cummings and Anderson, who are married, conducted preclinical trials on animals at UCI's Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center.

By injecting the stem cell into rats and mice with induced spinal cord injuries, the Irvine residents tested whether the treatment could repair central nervous system functions. They found the partially paralyzed rodents regaining the ability to walk.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine in July awarded the couple and StemCells' Nobuko Uchida a $20-million grant for a separate research project to begin human clinical trials using stem cells to treat neck spinal cord injuries.


Twitter: @britneyjbarnes

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